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Edward Whymper (1840 - 1911)Edward Whymper

A retrospective - 16 September 2011

Edward Whymper was born on 27 April 1840 in London. The son of the artist, Josiah Wood Whymper, he entered his father's business in Lambeth as a wood-engraver at an early age. In 1860, he was commissioned to make a series of sketches of Alpine scenery, and undertook an extensive journey in the Central and Western Alps. The following year, Whymper completed the ascent of Mont Pelvoux, later reaching the summit of a neighbouring peak, subsequently named the Pointe des Ecrins (which at that time was the highest point in the French Alps) in 1864. In July 1865, he succeeded in reaching the summit of the Matterhorn by way of the eastern face, after six previous attempts had ended in failure. However, four members of the party were killed on the descent, resulting in a formal investigation on his return. His account of the accident featured in Scrambles among the Alps (1871), which is illustrated with his own engravings.

Whymper engraving


In 1867, Whymper led the British Exploring Expedition, travelling to Greenland in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the interior with dog sledges. He and botanist, Robert Brown, succeeded in collecting specimens on the shores of Vaigat, which were later deposited in the British Museum. He returned to west Greenland in 1872 when he led the British Reconnaissance Expedition, examining the coasts around Disko Island, making glaciological and geological observations and collecting fossils.

Whymper climbingWhymper next led an expedition to the Ecuadorian Andes, organized primarily to collect data for the study of altitude sickness and the effects on the human body. In 1880, he made the first ascent of Chimborazo, and spent a night on the summit of Cotopaxi, in addition to making first ascents of six other great peaks. The results of his journey were published in 1892 for which he was awarded the Patrons Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. He brought back a large collection of rocks and other natural history specimens and suggested important improvements in the construction of aneroid barometers. Between 1896 and 189Edward Whymper in middle age7, Whymper compiled two popular guidebooks to Chamonix and Zermatt. He visited the Canadian Rockies, making the first ascents of Mount Whymper and Stanley Peak in 1901.

Whymper died on 16 September 1911 at Chamonix in France. To mark the centenary of his death, a small exhibition of his works will be on display in the SPRI Library during the Michaelmas Term 2011, with a number of Whymper's tools and woodblocks owned by the Polar Museum.

Published work includes:

The apprenticeship of a mountaineer: Edward Whymper's London diary 1855-1859; edited by Ian Smith. London: London Record Society, 2008. xxvi, 241 p. : ill. 25 cm.
ISBN 9780900952432.

Abstract: Diary of Edward Whymper, wood engraver and mountaineer who achieved first ascent of Matterhorn.

Ascent of the Matterhorn

Chamonix and the range of Mont Blanc.

A guide to Zermatt and the Matterhorn

Greenland. Alpine Journal, 1870-1872 [1872], 5 :1-23.
Abstract: General account; includes notes on Eskimo. Only brief mention of author's own visit of 1867.

Greenland exploration. Athenaeum, 1867, 2093 :767.
Abstract: Letter from Copenhagen, 23 October, reporting failure of his attempt to penetrate the inland ice of Greenland near Jakobshavn.

A journey from Norton Sound, Bering Sea, to Fort Youkon (junction of Porcupine and Youkon Rivers). Royal Geographical Society. Journal, 1868, 38 :219-237, map.
Abstract: Journey made during work on the Western Union Telegraph line, which was abandoned in 1867 owing to the success of the Atlantic cable.

Scrambles amongst the Alps in the years 1860-69. London: John Murray, 1871. xviii, 432p., ill., maps. 25 cm.
Abstract: Includes illustrated description of prototype of "Whymper" tent, p.99-101; discussion of ice axe and crampon design, p.349-51.

Some notes on Greenland and the Greenlanders. Alpine Journal, 1872-1874 [pub. 1874], 6 :161-168, 209-220.
Abstract: Includes references to author's expeditions of 1867 and 1872.

Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator.

Further reading:

[Anon.] Greenland. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, 1884, New series 6(3) :155-156.
Abstract: Reports on three articles in Good Words by Edward Whymper commenting on extent of inland ice sheet and geology of coast of Davis Strait. In view of Nordenskiold's visit, published in advance of completion of exploration.

Berg, Peter. Whymper's Scrambles with a Camera: A Victorian Magic Lantern Show

Bossey, Paul. Edouard Whymper au Groenland [Edward Whymper in Greenland] (French). Die Alpen, 1961, 37(1) :75-80.
Abstract: Whymper's Greenland expeditions of 1867 and 1868.

Brandt, Anthony. Extreme classics: the 100 greatest adventure books of all time. National Geographic: Adventure, 2001, :105-119, ill.
Abstract: Sketches include adventures of, or described by, Whymper, amongst others.

Brown, Robert (Campsterianus). Geological notes on the Noursoak Peninsula, Disco Island, and the country in the vicinity of Disco Bay, Greenland. Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 1875. 60p.
Abstract: From British expedition, 1867, leader Edward Whymper. Reprinted from Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow, Vol.5, Part 1, 1875.

Brown, Robert (Campsterianus). Das Innere von Gronland [The interior of Greenland] (German). Petermanns Geographische Mittheilungen, 1871, 10 :377-389.
Abstract: Account of attempt, with Edward Whymper, and of previous attempts to explore the interior of Greenland.

Brown, Robert (Campsterianus). Notes on the history and geographical relations of the Pinnipedia frequenting the Spitzbergen and Greenland seas. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1868 :405-440.
Abstract: Systematics, nomenclature, habits, physiology and commercial importance of seal fishery.

Brown, Robert (Campsterianus). On the history and geographical relations of the Pinnipedia frequenting the Spitsbergen and Greenland Seas. In: Jones, T. Rupert, ed. Manual of the natural history, geology and physics of Greenland. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1875 :35-68.
Abstract: Habits; instincts; species; "seal fisheries" mainly from author's Arctic voyages of 1861 and 1867 and from observations by John Wallace, 1861. Reprinted from Proceedings of the Zoological Society, 1868, 27 :405-40, with corrections and annotations by the author, March 1875.

Brown, Robert (Campsterianus). On the mammalian fauna of Greenland. In: Jones, T. Rupert, ed. Manual of the natural history, geology and physics of Greenland. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1875, :1-34.
Abstract: Review of previous works on subject; systematic and geographical distribution; synonymy and habits of land species; doubtful and mythical species; results of author's visits to Arctic 1861 and 1867. Reprinted from Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 28 May 1868, with corrections and additions by the author, March 1875.

Dickie, G. Notes on diatomaceae from Danish Greenland, collected by Robert Brown.In: Jones, T. Rupert, ed. Manual of the natural history,geology and physics of Greenland. London: HMSO, 1875 :319-320.
Abstract: Reprinted from Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, Vol.10, 1869 p.65-67.

Heer, Oswald. Contributions to the fossil flora of North Greenland, being a description of the plants collected by Mr. Edward Whymper during the summer of 1867. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1869, :445-488.
Abstract: Nugssuaq peninsula and Disko Island.

Henry, Emil William Triumph and Tragedy: The Life of Edward Whymper

Lyall, Alan. The first descent of the Matterhorn: a bibliographical guide to the 1865 accident and its aftermath. Wales: Gomer, 1997. 674p. 25.5 cm. ISBN 1859024572.
Abstract: Comprehensive reference to literature relating to first ascent of Matterhorn and to controversial accident on descent leading to death of four of seven climbers.

Lindsay, W. Lauder. The lichen-flora of Greenland, with remarks on the lichens of other Arctic regions. In: Jones, T. Rupert, ed. Manual of the natural history, geology and physics of Greenland. London: HMSO, 1875 :284-311.
Abstract: Chiefly based on collection by Robert Brown, 1867. Reprinted from Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 1869, 10 :32-65.

Rawlinson, Sir Henry C. Arctic exploration. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, 1873, 17(1) :15-17.
Abstract: Comments on recent and projected Arctic and Antarctic explorations; made during opening address at session on 11 November 1872.

Rhoades, Robert E.; Zapata Rios, Xavier and Aragundy Ochoa, Jenny. Mama Cotacachi : history, local perceptions, and social impacts of climate changes and glacier retreat in the Ecuadorian Andes. In: Orlove, Ben; Wiegandt, Ellen and Luckman, Brian H., eds. Darkening peaks : glacier retreat, science and society. California: University of California Press, 2008 :216-225
Abstract: Examines history, local perceptions, and social impacts of recent loss of glacier on Cotocachi, 4,939 m volcanic peak in Ecuador. Documents glacier's demise and human response using historical documents, photographic archives, historical paintings (e.g. 1880 Whymper sketch), meteorological records and government publications.

Sadler, John. Mr. John Sadler's list of Arctic cryptogamic and other plants, collected by Robert Brown, Esq., during the summer of 1861, on the islands of Greenland, in Baffin's Bay and Davis' Strait, and presented to the herbarium of the Botanical Society. In: Jones, T. Rupert, ed. Manual of the natural history, geology and physics of Greenland. London: HMSO, 1875 :253-254.
Abstract: Reprinted from Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 1862, 7 :374-375.

Smith. Ian. Shadow of the Matterhorn: The Life of Edward Whymper.
Abstract: Biography of English mountaineer and explorer.

Smythe, F.S. Edward Whymper. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1940. xiv, 330p.
Abstract: Biography of English mountaineer and explorer. Chapter XI describes his two expeditions to Greenland.

Summer, Joseph A. Edward Whymper 1840-1911 : tragic hero of the age of Alpinism.
[n.p.]: [n.pub.], 2007. 16 p. : ill. 30 cm.
Abstract: Brief biography of Edward Whymper focusing on alpine mountaineering exploits but mentioning two expeditions to Greenland (1867 and 1872), where he travelled across glaciers by dog-sled and collected geological specimens.